Field surveys and public opinion polls have commenced in the vicinity of a number of upcoming metro rail stations as part of a study aimed at integrating the 45-km long network with existing modes of public transportation.
The vision of multi-modal integration of the city's public transport grid has been around for long. However, it has never materialised. K. Rajaraman, Managing Director, Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL), says that the plan is to look at two tiers of influence around each station area – a 500-600 metre zone and a 3-4 km extended circle where ideally a feeder bus service must operate.
“We are looking at flow patterns and how people who walk, use an autorickshaw or a bus would access the station. The plan is to physically integrate metro stations with bus shelters or suburban railway stations in the vicinity through skywalks or ramps,” he says.
Some Metropolitan Transport Corporation buses, especially the deluxe and AC services, are also likely to be rerouted to avoid two premium category public transport services along the same road corridor.
The catch is that CMRL would only recommend many of these steps and it would be up to various other government agencies to implement the plan.
But the outcome of the exercise which is currently under way would determine the success or failure of the Metro project and by extension, the future of public transportation in the city, say experts.
The Delhi Metro's example offers some important pointers. Over 75 per cent of those who enter or exit a Delhi Metro station use a ‘non-motorised' mode of transportation, with pedestrians accounting for the largest share. A similar scenario is expected to play out in Chennai by 2015 when the metro rail network becomes operational.
However, investment on pedestrian infrastructure accounts for only 1.65 per cent of the transportation expenditure envisaged in CMDA's City Development Plan. Less than a fourth of that allocation would be spent on creating footpaths, the rest being spent on escalators and subways.
CMRL's projections show that more than 16,000 passengers would pour out from some of the stations every hour on to arterial roads during rush hour.
Many of them might simply not use the Metro if the roads outside the station area are not walkable. Besides, though similar in geographical size to London, the Chennai Metropolitan Area has only about 250 pedestrian light controlled crossings compared to 6,500 in London.
K. Gunasekaran, Transportation Professor at Anna University, says that efficient transfer would be crucial for the Metro as studies show that passengers would rather use a private vehicle than wait at an inter-modal point for more than 20 minutes.
He explains it through a concept called the “transfer penalty”. Suppose a resident of Pallikaranai were to use the MRTS station in Velachery, apart from the trip to the station, other aspects such as having to go to the ticketing counter or climbing stairs prove to be a major deterrent. “Transfer penalty usually multiplies the waiting time at the station by a factor of 1.5 or 2. Unless seamless transfer is available, there will be hesitation to use public transport.”
Sanjiv N. Sahai, Managing Director and CEO of Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System Limited (DIMMTS), says that each passenger trip on a Metro usually has a subsidy of around Rs.100. “The loans for financing the project are granted on the condition that ridership will eventually be high enough to pay them back.” Stressing that passenger volumes would never increase without effective integration, he points to Chennai Metro's ambitious target of 7.5 lakh passengers by 2016 and 13 lakh passengers by 2026.
Despite nearly a decade of operation and a 189-km long network, Delhi Metro has a ridership of only 16 lakh.
N.S.Srinivasan, former director, National Transportation Planning and Research Centre, says that the overall aim of the Metro as well as the monorail project is to encourage more people to move outside the city. “Unless the monorail dovetails with the Metro to give the experience of one unified system, much of the investment would go to waste,” he says.